Up to 1.4 million workers are set to strike together on Thursday of next week. Teaching assistants, refuse collectors, teachers, home helps, social workers, catering workers, environmental health officers and many more are set to join the walkout.
Local government workers in the Unison, GMB and Unite unions, and teachers in the NUT union have now said they will strike on 10 July.
The result of the civil service workers’ PCS union’s consultative ballot came out on Monday—a 73 percent yes vote. The union executive was set to meet on Tuesday of this week and is likely to join the strike. The firefighters’ FBU union could also join the coordinated fight.
The insulting offer of a 1 percent pay rise after years of a pay freeze has low paid public sector workers gearing up for a fight.
There is deep anger at the Tories’ assault on public services.
“This is not just about pay,” Portsmouth Unison branch chair Jon Woods told Socialist Worker. “It’s about the pressure of huge workloads, the targets culture and the stress of bullying managers.
“People have had enough.”
Across Britain spending cuts have decimated local services. By 2015/16 the Tories will have hacked £11.3 billion from local government funds in England alone.
Some £737 million has been cut as a result of capping public sector pay rises to 1 percent in the last two years.
“We’ve had new stewards come forward and increased our membership since the ballot result,” said Jon. “The idea of joint union pickets and a strike march and rally have gone down really well.”
Kirklees Unison branch chair Nick Ruff agreed. He told Socialist Worker, “People see this as an opportunity to have a go. They know if we accept the 1 percent we won’t get any more.
“There’s lots happening. We are doing workplace meetings pretty much every day. We’re organising joint picketing and strike committee meetings. The key question people are asking is ‘Will we win?’” said Nick.
The campaign has raised memories of the coordinated pensions strikes of 2011 and the failure of union leaders to lead a sustained fight. The prospect of coordinated national strikes is fuelling a mood to fight but also raising arguments over strategy.
Helen Davies, chair of Barnet Unison in north London, said, “Some people argue that we got sold out over pensions and that we need more than a one-day strike this time round—they are right.
“If we are going to maintain members’ enthusiasm we’re going to have to win a substantial pay rise. That means we have to name days for further action now.”
“We’ve had a really positive response to the ballot,” said Candy Udwin, of the PCS National Gallery branch. But there are arguments about what next after 10 July.
She added, “Some want sectional action within PCS, and others are for taking action with Unison when they are set to walk out in the autumn.
“If Unison do go out, then PCS and the other unions involved in 10 July should go out with them.”
Nick said, “The coordinated action will make a real difference. It’s really good the union is now talking about two days the week beginning 20 September.
“That gives a great opportunity for local government to strike together with health, and with the teachers, firefighters and civil service workers—that’s only going to make us stronger.”
Teachers want to see a serious strategy over pay
Teachers in the NUT union are gearing up for the national strike on 10 July.
Education secretary Michael Gove is driving through attacks on pay, pensions and conditions.
And talks between the government and unions are just about implementation—not the attacks themselves.
Teachers discussed how to make the strike as solid and active as possible at a national meeting of the Socialist Teachers Alliance last Saturday.
Paul, a teacher in east London, told Socialist Worker, “Everyone agreed that pushing for joint union school meetings is crucial. We need to organise picket lines and push for the biggest turnout on demonstrations on the day.”
Many NUT activists want their union leaders to name dates for autumn strikes so teachers know there is a serious strategy to win.
Richard is a primary school teacher in Cambridge. “It’s been more difficult to build for the strike this time,” he told Socialist Worker. “People don’t think all these one-day strikes are enough to win.
“But I’ve found the strongest argument is that this is a strike with lots of other unions. If we weren’t out on 10 July, it would give the green light for more heavy-handed management.”
'Get the word out - 10 July will be big'
Liz Wheatley is a housing worker in Unison from Camden, north London. She explained how she is building for the strike.
“I started by phoning other Unison members at work who have children.
“I told them that the schools would be on strike on 10 July too.
“People said there was no way they would be working that day then. Many hadn’t known the NUT was on strike too.
“We need to get the word out fast how big this is going to be. We’re having a joint stewards meeting.
“We’ll plan leafleting and campaigning for the strike as well as where pickets are most needed on the strike day itself.”